Federal Judge: South Dakota Violating Voter Registration Act

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- A judge ruled Thursday that South Dakota is violating federal laws by failing to make it easier to vote.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol of South Dakota sided with two American Indian tribes, the Rosebud Sioux and the Oglala Sioux. The tribes argued in a 2020 complaint that the South Dakota secretary of state's office was not adhering to the National Voter Registration Act.

The law requires state agencies to help residents register to vote when they interact with government agencies for other services.

Piersoll wrote in his opinion that secretary of state's office had not provided adequate information to county auditors and the other state agencies that would help them comply with federal law.

The secretary of state, as the chief elections officer responsible for implementation of National Voting Registration Act, "contributed to these failings through inadequate training and oversight," Piersol wrote.

Secretary of State Steve Barnett did not immediately respond to an email from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader seeking reaction to the ruling.

Licensing and public benefits are managed by the state department of public safety and the state department of social services. Piersol said the secretary of state's office was not providing enough oversight to ensure those offices were fulfilling those duties.

Piersol also found that while the department of public safety was responsible for transmitting voter registrations to the county auditor, numerous errors were stopping that process from happening. He added that the department of social services was not complying with the act because it was not changing voter registration addresses when those who receive food stamps or other aid change their addresses over the phone.

In addition, the judge found that state employees have mistakenly declined to provide registration services to convicted felons who are eligible to vote.